Round 1 of the 2022 Formula 1 season gave us a lot to talk about, and simultaneously left us with a fair few questions to be answered. But, considering the new regulations, more unknowns than known variables was expected. Testing was always going to be something that we used as an opportunity to look at the cars out on track. No real significant conclusions to be drawn from there. Reliability is arguably the most important thing you look for in there. You can’t finish first if you can’t finish the race. Testing lap times don’t really matter either because nobody really pushes hard and goes all in. Despite that, the fact that McLaren looked pretty solid in Barcelona, to then turning up for the race at Bahrain and finishing 14th and 15th (this is after 3 other drivers DNF) is a concern. It’s not just that they finished terribly low down the order. It’s that they genuinely looked like the car with the slowest race pace. And that is surprising to say the least. McLaren have been on a steady upward climb for the past few years. To be this far off? Definitely things to work on.
And yes, I know that this is just the first round in a 23 race season. Overreaction and over analysis is not the right thing to do. But I need to put out content, so let’s go ahead and overreact & over analyse just a little bit more. FERRARI ARE BACK! Bahrain was painted scarlet red last weekend as the Scuderia Ferrari team got their first win in 46 races, which was also a 1-2! The last one was in Singapore, with Vettel taking the win and Leclerc taking P2. Ferrari have been quietly confident with their car this season. Team principal Mattia Binotto has been calm and cool and quietly confident- very un-Ferrari like. The team as a whole feels a lot calmer. Even during and after the race, Leclerc looked and sounded like a more seasoned campaigner. They know that they have a solid package in this F1-75 car of theirs, but Red Bull still look like the car to beat.
Speaking of Red Bull. They had a mixed weekend. Topping the time charts during free practice. Looked all set to take pole position with Max when Charles and Ferrari had something to say about that. But despite that, they looked like they have a very good, fast, competitive car on their hands. Even during the race when Max reported a steering issue, he was still quick enough to build a gap to Sainz in P3. That Red Bull still looks like the car to beat, for me. And yes, 3 of the 4 cars with a Red Bull Powertrain DNF. And people love to jump on that and question the reliability of the cars. But that’s not how it works. 1. We still do not know the exact issues on the cars. 2. All of them had different problems. Max had a steering issue, and a loss of power that just shut down his car. Checo had the loss of power issue too. Gasly and Alpha Tauri though had an MGUK issue and not the same problems as the Red Bull cars. They just have to put this down to a bad weekend (0 points hurts) and focus on Jeddah in a couple of days time.
The other team who I think will be in the title fight- Mercedes. Right now, they are clearly the third fastest team on the grid. Comfortably ahead of the rest but still a way off from Red Bull and Ferrari. But that’s where having someone like a Lewis Hamilton comes in. Mercedes got more points than even they would’ve expected, with Lewis finishing on the podium after the two Red Bulls DNF. But you need a driver as driven and focused as Lewis in order to always stay ready and pounce on an opportunity. The car clearly is not the easiest to drive. Porpoising, hard to handle, the straight line speed. Some things need fixing. But Merc know what they have to do, and I’m sure that in 4-6 races, they will be right up there, and could potentially even pip Ferrari as the main competitor to Red Bull. It’s hard to write off a 7 time drivers’ champion and an 8 time constructors’ champion- the last 8 years at that. I’m sure they’ll get their act together. I don’t expect a massive performance jump in the next race, or even in the one after that. But I am certain that this will be a three horse race between Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari.
Jeddah should be fun. The fastest street circuit in the calendar. 79% of the track is driven at full throttle. The most corners of any track in the calendar with 27 of them. Under the lights. It is a nice change from Bahrain and offers such a different set of challenges. Will McLaren, Aston Martin, and Williams still struggle? Will Haas and Alfa Romeo prove that they are genuinely here to fight for the “best of the rest” midfield battle against the likes of Alpine? Will Red Bull have sorted out their “reliability” issues (or whatever little fixes they need to look at). And will the Ferrari, who are so good at slow speed corners, show that they are good enough and fast enough for a rapid street circuit, and put another marker down for being a genuine title contender? We shall see! I think we’re in store for a very exciting Saudi Arabian Grand Prix!